Chapter 10

 

Chapter 10

 

            Atticus was old and feeble:  he was nearly fifty.  Jem and I were disappointed that he wasn’t more like the younger fathers in Maycomb.  Atticus was always too tired to play football with Jem like the other dads.  He wore glasses because he was nearly blind in his left eye.

            When he gave us our air-rifles Atticus wouldn’t teach us to shoot.  Uncle Jack taught us and explained that Atticus wasn’t interested in guns.  Atticus said to Jem one day, “I’d rather you shot at tin cans in the back yard, but I know you’ll go after birds.  Shoot all the bluejays you want, if you can hit ‘em, but remember it’s a sin to kill a mockingbird.”

            Later I asked Miss Maudie why Atticus said that.  She said, “Your father’s right.  Mockingbirds don’t do one thing but make music for us to enjoy.  They don’t eat up people’s gardens; they don’t do one thing but sing their hearts out for us.  That’s why it’s a sin to kill a mockingbird.”

            I complained to Miss Maudie that Atticus was too old to do anything.  She said that he was a great lawyer and the best checker-player in town and that I should be proud of him.

            One day Jem and I were walking down the street with our new air-rifles and Jem spotted something.  “Whatcha looking at?”  I asked.

            “That old dog down yonder,” he said.

            “That’s Harry Johnson’s dog who’s named Tim Johnson, ain’t it?”

            The dog was acting strangely, and Jem got worried, thinking it might have rabies.  He called to Cal to come out in the street to look at the dog.

            When Calpurnia saw the dog, she was sure it had rabies.  She called on the telephone to Atticus’s office.  “Mr. Finch!  This is Cal.  I swear to God there’s a mad dog down the street a piece – he’s comin’ this way – it’s old Tim Johnson.”  Then Cal called the operator and asked her to call Miss Rachel (Dill’s aunt) and Miss Stephanie Crawford and anyone else on the street to warn them to lock their doors and stay inside.  It is very dangerous for anyone to be bitten by a dog with rabies.

            Mr. Heck Tate was the sheriff of Maycomb County.  He showed up with a rifle.  Atticus showed up as well.  The dog was pretty far down the street, but it was headed towards the Finch’s place.  Atticus told Heck that he better go ahead and shoot the dog – put it out of its misery.  But Heck handed the rifle to Atticus and said, “Take him, Mr. Finch.”  Jem and I couldn’t believe that Heck would want our father to try to shoot!!

            Atticus said, “Don’t be silly, Heck.  You shoot him.”

            “Mr. Finch, this is a one-shot job.”

            Atticus shook his head vehemently.  “Don’t just stand there, Heck!  He won’t wait all day for you—“

            Heck said, “For God’s sake, Mr. Finch, look where he is!  If I miss, the bullet will go straight into the Radley house!  I can’t shoot that well and you know it!”

            Atticus replied, “I haven’t shot a gun in thirty years –“

            Mr. Tate almost threw the rifle at Atticus.  “I’d feel mighty comfortable if you did now,” he said.

            Jem and I watched our father take the gun and walk out into the middle of the street.  He walked quickly, but I felt like I was watching the whole thing in slow motion.  I couldn’t understand why the sheriff would want Atticus to do the shooting.

            Atticus pushed his glasses to his forehead; they slipped down, and he dropped them in the street.  In the silence, I heard them crack.  Atticus rubbed his eyes and chin; we saw him blink hard.  With movements so swift they seemed simultaneous, Atticus’s hand yanked a ball-tipped lever as he brought the gun to his shoulder.  The rifle cracked.  Tim Johnson leaped, flopped over and crumpled on the sidewalk in a brown-and-white heap.  He died instantly.  Atticus had shot him right between the eyes!

            Mr. Tate said, “You haven’t forgot much, Mr. Finch.  You’re still a great shooter.”

            Miss Maudie yelled across the street, “I saw that, One –Shot Finch!”

            Jem was totally stunned!  So was I.  Mr. Tate saw our shock and said, “What’s the matter with you, boy, can’t you talk?  Didn’t you know your daddy’s –“

            Atticus interrupted, “Hush, Heck.  Let’s go back to work.”

            After Atticus and Mr. Tate left Miss Maudie told us that Atticus was known as Ol’ One-Shot because when he was younger, he was the best shot in all of Maycomb.  We were so impressed!  When I asked why he never goes hunting, Miss Maudie said, “If your father’s anything, he’s civilized in his heart.  Shooting is a gift of God – a talent – oh, you have to practice to make it perfect, but shootin’s different from playing the pinao.  I think maybe Atticus put down his gun when he realized that God had given him an unfair advantage over most living things.  I guess he decided he wouldn’t shoot till he had to, and he had to today.”

            I said, “It seems like he should be proud of his talent.”

            Miss Maudie relplied, “People in their right minds never take pride in their talents.”

            I didn’t understand all of this, and I told Jem that we sure would have something to brag about at school on Monday – now that we knew our dad was the best shooter in Maycomb.  But Jem told me not to say anything at school.  He seemed to think that bragging wasn’t so important anymore, that it wasn’t a very grown-up thing to do.  He said, “Atticus is real old, but I wouldn’t care if he couldn’t do anything – I wouldn’t care if he couldn’t do a blessed thing.  Atticus is a gentleman, just like me!”  It seems Jem realized that a gentleman doesn’t brag about his talents, and doesn’t use his talents to take advantage of other people or animals.